Iraq steps up efforts to Stop Smuggling of Rare Species

"There is a trader who managed last year to get seven rare and desirable hawks from the desert of Ramadi and [offered to sell them to us] for a good price," which he declined. "I subsequently learned that this trader [sold them] to the Gulf traders,” he added.

It's well-known that smugglers are moving Iraqi livestock to neighboring countries. Several operations smuggling sheep and cattle were reported in February in Anbar province. There have also been numerous reports of the Islamic State (IS) smuggling livestock to fund their operations. In June, IS took rugged and bumpy roads to try to sneak stolen thoroughbred Arabian horses from Kirkuk to the border between Diyala and Salahuddin, authorities said. In September, Iraqi military intelligence in Anbar foiled an IS attempt to smuggle out 1,332 livestock of various species.

Abdul Hadi al-Saadawi, a member of parliament's Committee on Health and Environment, told Al-Monitor that smuggling cattle and rare birds and animals has become common. The committee has asked the federal government to issue more stringent laws and tighten security controls, he added. Special security detachments are being dispatched along routes from the desert of Najaf to Basra in the south, near the border with Iran, for the first time since 2003.

The government also is trying to curtail smuggling by restricting the transport of cattle, birds and rare animals from one province to another, he said.

These new measures may have helped security officials arrest Iraqi rare bird hunters in the Samawah desert. Over the past few years, Iraq has lost a great deal of its rare biological wealth because of the turbulent security situation and political developments. Even the Mosul zoo was completely looted when IS controlled the city.

Haider al-Zamily, a veterinarian at Zawraa Park, told Al-Monitor there is a plan to open a center there for wild animal rehabilitation "in a bid to return them to their natural habitat.”

While this project is an important step toward preserving Iraq's environmental diversity, it is necessary to enforce laws that deter smuggling and indiscriminate hunting, prepare programs that increase environmental awareness and provide job opportunities for poor young people who smuggle animals and birds for money.

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